Wow! This was a powerful novel. I cried.
Harold Fry is trapped in a loveless marriage with wife Maureen; only son David no longer lives with them. A letter arrives from an old colleague, Queenie Hennessy. She is dying of cancer in Berwick on Tweed. Harold writes a brief reply and walks to the letter box to post it. But he keeps going. He decides to walk, in his yachting shoes, from his home in Devon to Berwick.
On the route he thinks about his marriage and why it went wrong, of the debt he owes to Queenie, of his mother who walked out on him and his alcoholic father, and of his failed relationship with his son. And his abandoned wife thinks her thoughts too.
I related so very well to the early descriptions of walking. Every year I go for a walk, on my own. I have walked along the Thames, from Oxford to Cambridge, from St Paul's to Canterbury, along the Lea Valley, and along the South Coast from Brighton to Folkestone. I understood when Harold felt that walking was so much more intense than driving; when you walk you are a part of the landscape rather than travelling through the landscape. I empathised with the feeling of embarrassment at being the only person in the guest house on their own. And how I winced with every blister!
But I also wanted so much to understand what had gone wrong with Harold's life. What happened to alienate him from his son? Why had he drifted apart from his wife? And why did he owe Queenie such a debt? These puzzles had me racing through the book when I wanted to talk, step by step.
Will he make it? And if he does, how will he ever go back to being 'normal'? And will Queenie die?
Terrific human drama. Possibly the best book I have read this year. Superb! December 2012; 296 pages
It has subsequently been pointed out to me by another reader that the book loses a little in the middle part when Harold is joined by a motley collection of hippies and other supporters who publicise and try to take over the purpose of the 'pilgrimage'. This reader suggested that the narrative lost its way at this point (although, like Harold, it found its way again later). I agree that a little momentum was lost here although I understand the point of trying to show how publicity can warp purpose. Perhaps the story would have been better had it been a little leaner and had this sub-plot been excised. Let the readers decide!
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57